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STATS ANALYSIS: Did Wanderers simply run out of space at Morecambe?

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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Wanderers had more than 50 per cent more touches inside the penalty box at Morecambe than they normally get in a League One game – but could not turn territory into goals.

That is the statistic which leapt out after a frustrating goalless draw at the Mazuma Stadium, which meant Bolton dropped eight points behind the top two, and may now be looking at the play-offs as the only probable route to promotion.

Ian Evatt admitted his side were “loose” in attack, having steered the game in their direction early in the second half.

Morecambe’s intense work-rate limited the amount of attacking space Bolton had to operate in the first 45 minutes, limiting the number of clear-cut chances they created. Shola Shoretire did get a good sight of goal but was denied by a brave block from Conor Ripley.

After the interval it was a different story. Morecambe – unable to sustain their original press – began to drop players deeper to protect the penalty box, allowing Bolton to creep further and further into their half.

Wanderers doubled their possession in the opposition half and had twice the number of touches inside the Shrimps’ penalty box than they had managed before the break but could not cut through an organised and resolute back line.

And it was the Whites’ inability to transform their intricate work in the final third into anything more meaningful that left many of the 1,600 travelling fans feeling it had been an opportunity wasted.

Bolton’s players touched the ball 11 times in the penalty area during the first 45 minutes and 22 thereafter. But their best spell produced just two shots on target, the best of which came from Josh Sheehan and was again saved by Ripley.

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Evatt’s side has averaged 21.17 touches of the ball inside the penalty area in their 36 League One games this season, the most (38) coming in the 2-1 win at Fleetwood in November and the least, just six, in the 1-0 defeat at Cheltenham a month earlier.

They actually produced more penalty area entries at the Mazuma Stadium than they managed in either the 5-0 wins against Peterborough United or MK Dons but still had nothing to show for it.

The away end got a close-up view of Bolton’s work in the second period and a total of eight shots came in on Ripley’s goal. Before the interval they had managed seven shots, three on target, but the Whites’ football had felt clunky, as they struggled to find the right ball in a congested midfield.

Morecambe felt more of a threat at that stage but put none of their three efforts at goal on target – even if headers from Liam Shaw and Farend Rawson should have at least worked James Trafford.

After half time the Shrimps conceded territory but managed twice as many shots on goal, including two on target, another example, perhaps, that fatigue played a factor and that the home side’s plan worked well on the day.

Overall, Bolton’s haul of 15 shots, five (33.3 per cent) on target, was slightly above average on the season as a whole - which currently stands at 11.67 and 31.4 per cent.

According to Wyscout, Wanderers’ XG over 90 minutes was 1.29. For the uninitiated, this is a metric which assesses the ‘quality’ of chances created, according to where the shots were on the pitch and several other factors.

That XG is also slightly down on the season average of 1.59, while Morecambe’s (0.69) is also well down on the mean of 1.09.

Factoring in all of the above, some credit must go to Derek Adams’ side, whose brave and committed defending around the penalty box was to be applauded. Likewise, goalkeeper Ripley came to the rescue on a couple of occasions to keep a hold on his clean sheet.

Whether Wanderers lacked invention, simply ran out of space on a tight pitch, or the weight of their schedule took the edge off their creativity or bravery around the penalty box is up for debate. That they avoided any sort of sucker punch at the other must be regarded as a positive.

What is beyond doubt, however, is that Bolton have to regain some of that bubbliness they lost through an arduous February in double quick time. They will be back in front of home support once again on Saturday against Ipswich with some pressure to perform.

Evatt and his team has consistently found a response when doubts have been cast their way this season and, for the first time in a while, those grumbles began to surface after the final whistle at Morecambe when, contrary to the manager’s assertion, many felt short-changed by the point earned.

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Natasha Whittam

Natasha Whittam
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

Absolute drivel.

It's a game of football, not a maths test.

The team that scores more goals than their opponent wins the game.

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